A Day In The Life Of A Student Fasting During Ramadan

Arij Limam

Arij Limam, 20, is a journalism student about to enter her third year at the University of the Arts London. She lives in North Finchley with her parents, brother and sister, who are all currently fasting until the 28 July, when Ramadan ends.

"Many non-Muslims don’t realise Ramadan falls on a different dates each year. This year it started on 27 June, which works out well for me. Fasting during the summer holiday means it doesn’t interfere with my studies too much.

"Depending on what time I went to bed the night before, my typical day starts when I wake up at around midday. This might sound lazy – even for a student – but when Ramadan falls at this time of year, the evenings are long and late. During the day I try to keep myself busy so that my mind is preoccupied and I can shrug off any thirst or hunger pangs. Muslims believe the Quran came to the Prophet Muhammad from God during Ramadan, so I try to read it as much as possible.

"When I’m not doing that I just speak to friends, browse the internet (vigilantly trying to avoid pictures of food) and spend time with my family.

"The experiences of my Tunisian parents are actually what inspired me to become a journalist. My mum and dad fled to Saudi in the early nineties: she because hijab wearers were forbidden from attending university, he because the Tunisian government was looking to arrest him. Dad was affiliated to the dissident En-Nahdha Party, who opposed the president, Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali. They ended up having to leave the Middle East to escape extradition and moved to Albania, where I was born.

"By 1998 civil war threatened to unfurl across the Balkans. To avoid the gunfire that was audible from our home on a daily basis, we boarded one of the last flights out to London, where we’ve been ever since. I chose my degree because I hope that through political journalism I might be able to facilitate a voice for people who need it - like my parents did back then.

"Ben Ali was deposed in 2011 after 23 years of corrupt and suppressive rule, so after more than two decades in exile, baba returned along with a group of similar political opposition figures like Rashid al-Ghannushi, the co-founder of En-Nadha. Since then we’ve been back every summer; twice during Ramadan.

"Fasting in Tunisia can be challenging. If it’s summer, no matter how much water I drink before sunrise I’m bound to feel desiccated by midday. Most people there tend to stay indoors and take a much-needed siesta instead of walking about in the heat.

"I perform the two middle prayers of the day on time, once at about 1pm and then in the early evening. My dissertation is looming, so I try to prepare for that in between prayers when I have the energy. I’m looking at the aftermath of the Arab Spring and how it’s been covered in both the Western and Arab media. The first and arguably only successful Arab Spring experience was in Tunisia, so the country’s path to democracy fascinates me.

"Sunset varies by a minute or so each day determined by the relative position of the sun. At the start of Ramadan, it came at 9:25pm. A few hours before sundown I begin to notice how dry my throat is and feel twinges of hunger. I’ll go into the kitchen to ask my parents if they need help preparing the food, which doesn’t help. We wait for the last couple of minutes before we hear the athan - prayer call - on TV with a glass of water and a date each in our hands; the Prophet Muhammad used to do the same.

"After this we perform the fourth prayer of the day and sit around the dinner table with the whole family to enjoy the much-anticipated meal. In my house we have a bit of soup (good for digestion), salad, and a cheeky fried samosa. Though it might not always feel good at the time, fasting is thought to be really healthy for the body, giving it time to cleanse itself. I always feel pretty sprightly anyway. But Ramadan isn’t just about abstaining from food and worldly desires, it’s about purifying your spirit. It gives me a sense of purpose and reminds me to reflect on how I’m living. It’s like a spring clean for your life.

"At 11pm, we go the mosque to pray again. We get back from that at around 1am. I’m usually knackered by this time, but at 2:30 I eat a small meal – lots of fibre and fluids - to prepare for the fast before doing the dawn prayer with the nearest and dearest. In Tunisia everyone tends to go out at night, which is when everything gets lively, and stay up till dawn.

"As for what’s happening now in Palestine, it saddens me to hear about this new groundswell of trauma and decimation. It feels like the crisis has been going on forever, but with Gaza under tight Israeli siege, receiving close to no humanitarian aid, it somehow seems worse that it’s happening now when many Palestinians are fasting. If anything, it makes me feel guilty that although I’m abstaining too, I’m safe in the knowledge that I can eat anything I like when I break my fast. For many Gazan families, they don’t know if they’ll still be in their homes by the time sundown comes, let alone if they’ll find anything to eat.

As told to Isabella Smith

Ramadan 2014